The truest sign that their relationship had grown stronger, despite some obstacles, was when Pelinka contacted Johnson on Sunday night after the Lakers won the NBA championship by beating the Miami Heat. Pelinka, vice president of basketball operations and general manager of the Lakers, wanted Johnson to be part of the glorious moment.
After all, Johnson recruited LeBron James to LA, setting the stage for the Lakers’ return to fame, which Pelinka also helped by trading with Anthony Davis.
The two have mended their relationship since Johnson abruptly resigned as president of the Lakers for basketball operations on the last night of the 2018-19 season, believing that Pelinka was “sneaky and whispered” about him within the organization.
Johnson and Pelinka have had ongoing conversations over the past year, culminating in that phone call after the Lakers won their 17th NBA championship and the Boston Celtics most tied.
“I’m still so grateful for the two seasons that I got to work with Earvin, and he’s definitely a part of tonight with his vision and work side by side,” Pelinka said in a video conference late Sunday evening. “He’s an amazing person and we have a great, incredibly strong relationship. He was one of the first calls tonight. Had a great conversation with him.
“But I think what I learned in life are the tough times or the trials where you grow and turn to your faith, turn to your family, your loved ones, and most importantly, the lesson you learn. We all know that you just have to worry about work. You can’t really get involved in the noise. … I’m just grateful that the work we did led to this and all the other things really mean nothing when you hold the trophy in your hand. ”
Johnson said he wasn’t interested in “living his life with grudges,” perceived or otherwise.
The success of the franchise is most important, Johnson said. Seeing James, Davis, and the rest of the Lakers climb to the same heights as him and Kobe Bryant as they conquered five titles in purple and gold meant it all.
“After I left, that stuff was in the past,” Johnson told the Times over the phone. “But I was still a Laker and nothing has changed there. And the love that Jeanie and I have for each other will always be there and always was there. That hasn’t changed either. I’ve always wanted the best for the Lakers, so I wanted to do whatever I can to help the Lakers win another NBA championship. Rob and I got out of the situation and now we’re good. We are friends. We talked about repeating ourselves last night. ”
The respect that Johnson and Pelinka have for Buss has pulled them together. Buss impressed both of them with running the franchise made famous by her late father, Jerry Buss.
“We have the best owner in all professional sports in Jeanie Buss,” said Pelinka. “She is unbelievable. She leads with a really rare combination of courage and passion. I think our Lakers culture is focused on making sure players have everything they need to be successful and it’s a player-centric organization that puts players first. This is our culture and that sets it up. ”
The death of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash was at the center of this pandemic-shortened COVID-19 season that ended in a bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
That got Johnson thinking too.
“You know Kobe sits proudly up there in heaven,” said Johnson. “DR. Jerry Buss is proud in heaven. Chick Hearn. All three, I know they saw the game together.
“But also LeBron James. What LeBron James said he would do when we were in his living room – me, him, and his agent Rich Paul – he said, “Earvin, I’m going to bring the Lakers back. I will take us to the championship. ‘Everything he said he would do, he did just that. It was just great to know that he was the centerpiece to bring us back. ”
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